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Books & Media

A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry
Charles K. Wolfe (Vanderbilt University Press, 1999).
Wolfe uses oral histories from the men & women who worked in the wings or at the microphones of the Grand Ole Opry to flesh out the institution that  began when Nashville radio station WSM first broadcast Uncle Jimmy Thompson playing old-time fiddle tunes on Nov. 28, 1925. 
   By the mid-1920s, many traditional musicians had migrated into Nashville from rural areas. Although the music at first met with apparent indifference on the part of many of the city's citizens, the mix of musical talent, an audience, and a demand for this style of music was growing. With the focus provided by the Opry to fill that need, Nashville soon became "the old-time music center," and later the "country music center" that it is today.

Shared Traditions: Southern History & Folk Culture
Charles Joyner (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
Joyner brings together sixteen articles in this collection: eight are new, the other half have been published before in one form or another. All of them reflect his life- long interest in the South &  the traditional culture of the peoples of the South. The articles range from "rites of power and resistance on the slave plantation to the creolization of language to the musical brew of blues, country, jazz, and rock." This book displays Joyner in the roles of  historian, folklorist, and artist.  In so doing,  it also suggests the complex nature of  his ongoing concerns with the interplay and inter- connections between history, culture, and creativity.

Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture
William J. Mahar (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
Behind the Burnt Cork Mask is a welcome addition to the literature on the critically important blackface minstrel show of the nineteenth century. Indeed, as Mahar says: "The history of the blackface minstrelsy does not just 'touch' every form of popular music; it is linked to the very formation of antebellum popular culture." Mahar gives us history and analysis in areas that have been little noticed before, such as the strong influence on minstrel shows that derived from a limited number of Italian operas. This is a valuable and thoroughly researched work.
Among the 1999 reissues by Rounder Records of early Library of Congress recordings in the Folk Music of the United States series are two volumes of anglo-american ballads. Volume 1, originally released as AFS L1 in 1942 and re-released as an LP in 1956, featured ballads recorded in the field by the Lomaxes (John A., Bess, Alan & Elizabeth), Herbert Halpert, Charles Seeger, and others. The present release, Rounder CD #1511, has the added benefit of an illuminating essay originally written by ethnomusicologist Wayne D. Shirley in 1978, in conjunction with another series of LC recordings then in progress.

anglo-american ballads, volume1Of the thirteen selections included in this collection of ballads, five are by Virginia singers, E. C. Ball, Horton Barker, and Texas Gladden. Prior to the recordings made of Gladden by either Halpert or the Lomaxes in 1941, a number of selections had been recorded by her for the Virginia Folklore Society; indeed, the picture of her in the record booklet is from the Society's files in Alderman Library, UVA. The Society's aluminum discs of her ballads, along with an illuminated manuscript of "The Devil's Nine Questions" (on this record) commissioned by VFS member Alfreda Peel and featured as the cover of the Society's journal, Volume 4 (1988), are also among the VFS holdings.

anglo-american ballads, volume2 Volume two in the series was first released in 1943 as AFS L7, with notes and as edited by Benjamin A. Botkin, former head of the Federal Writer's Project Folklore Program. Reissued as Rounder CD 1516, this record is, if anything, even more indebted than volume one to Virginia singers and to a collector, well-known in the Staunton area, Fletcher Collins, whose fieldwork joins that of Halpert and Alan & Elizabeth Lomax on this disc. Six of the ten "recorded treasures" on this CD are from Horton Barker and Texas Gladden. Another picture of Gladden from the VFS files is included in the booklet, which features Horton Barker on its cover, with several other pictures of him on the inside. In short then, both of these volumes of anglo-american ballads, bear close connections to the Virginia Folklore Society's history and have special significance for its members, though this editor would be the first to emphasize that interest in these two volumes should not end there.

John Jackson, front porch blues"Blue Ridge Songster-Virginia Bluesman- American Legend" and native Virginian, John Jackson has recently had two new CDs released. One, front porch blues ALCD 4867, pictured here, was just released by the acclaimed Alligator Records. Of the sixteen cuts on this disc, there is a broad mix of blues, popular, and religious song, and also of sources, which include Jackson's family, Jimmie Rodgers, Rev. Gary Davis, Josh White, Blind Boy Fuller, and several pieces learned from Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. Two of the selections, which Jackson learned from his mother and father, are credited as arranged by him; three other songs are attributed to him as writer.
   One of the latter three songs, "Chesterfield" was written by Buddy Moss of Atlanta, from whom John learned it when Moss did a concert in 1965 for the Folklore Society of Greater Washington in DC. A record, "Buddy Moss Rediscovery" was issued from the tapes of that concert on Biograph Records, BLP-12019 Volume 1, and it includes "Chesterfield." As one who was at the Moss concert and involved with the subsequent record production (along with husband, Chuck Perdue), and who was also present at John Jackson's first recording session (in 1965 as well), this editor feels that Alligator Records by rights should give proper credit to Moss.
   This quibble with the record producers in no way detracts from the enjoyment of this fine record or the importance of its release and broader introduction to the public of one of this country's living master blues musicians. To the producers' credit, it is gratifying to see that they chose to feature the singing and guitar playing of James Jackson, with John backing up his youngest son, on the last cut of this record. James is a fine musician in his own right, but it is hard to stand in the shadow of an American Legend.

John Jackson: Country Blues
&DittiesThe second release, John Jackson: Country Blues & Ditties is a sentimental and affectionate retrospective issued by Chris Strachwitz, who trusted his initial hearing and taped John Jackson's first-ever album, Arhoolie Record F-1025, the very next day after he first heard him. The cover photo on this album, taken by Strachwitz of a much younger man in a flannel shirt stands in contrast to the older, more polished John Jackson presented on the front of the previous record. There are other, more subtle changes, too, in his music over the years, though it remains as rich and compelling as any vintage product, characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal. Still, there are those among us who appreciate, and may even prefer nostalgically "looking backward" to the earlier performances that foregrounded the success of a phenomenal musician now at the top of his game.

Other Media

Interested in published references to traditional music and musicians? You might want to check out the following:Folk Music Index. This website is not included under "Related Sites," because that section is reserved for a more or less permanent listing of sites having some broader state, regional, or institutional affiliation related to folklore & folklife, rather than strictly personal webpages. Personal pages tend to reflect the more idiosyncratic interests of their owners. This site, to some extent, bridges between those poles. Jane Keefer has done an extraordinary job in gathering together a considerable resource on traditional music & musicians, but be forewarned that there are more than a fair share of popular artists and others included, who push the boundaries of the category, "traditional". This, however, neither diminishes her contribution nor the Index's usefulness.

The John Avery and Ruby Terrill Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip Collection is the fifth American Folklife Center contribution now available online through the Library of Congress American Memory Project. This multiformat ethnographic field collection includes 686 sound recordings, photographic prints, fieldnotes, dust jackets, and other manuscripts relating to the singers and songs documented by the Lomaxs during their three-month, 6,502 mile trip, which began in Port Aransas, Texas on March 31, 1939 and ended at the Library of Congress on June 14, 1939. They recorded in eight Southern states: Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. The music recorded by them includes ballads, blues, children's songs, cowboy songs, fiddle tunes, field hollers, lullabies, play-party songs, religious dramas, spirituals, and work songs. Among these, over 100 songs are sung in Spanish. The online collection is searchable by city, state, and county; performer's name; song title; musical genre; and recording venue. It also includes an extensive bibliography and discography.

A second American Folklife Center online project, Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, features graphic images and recorded interviews with quiltmakers from two separate Center collections: the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project and the Lands' End All-American Quilt Contest. While "the images of the quilts convey the range of contemporary quiltmaking styles," the Folklife Center notes that the "quilt-related information in the Blue Ridge Parkway Folklife Project [1978] is significant because it represents in-depth interviews with a number of quiltmakers within a limited geographic area during the late-twentieth-century quiltmaking revival. Curator/consultant on this project, Laurel Horton, has chosen six individual quiltmakers to represent a cross-section of those documented by the project to show the variety of types of quilts made, the differing backgrounds, motivations, and aesthetic sensibilities of  the quilters, and also to demonstrate "the difficulty of defining a single 'Appalachian' quiltmaking tradition." Horton has also transcribed all audio materials to make them accessible to researchers with diverse backgrounds and needs.

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VFS Matters

  "Founded on April 17, 1913, the Virginia Folklore Society is one of the oldest state folklore societies in the country."

VFS Bulletin No. 6, Vol. 4, 1917

Last updated on August 17, 1999. Contact person for this site is: 
Nancy Martin-Perdue

Comments & Queries

If you are not currently on the mailing list for the newsletter and would like to be, send your request along with name and address to the VFS address at the bottom of this page or email Ms. Eve Watters.
   The Society is happy to receive input relating to folklore/folklife in Virginia, articles for inclusion in future journals, news items, reviews, comments, and suggestions for the Society's website or newsletters. It also welcomes queries and, within the limits of time and ability, will try to provide answers or suggest other possible information sources.
   All such requests or materials should be directed by email to: The Virginia Folklore Society or by mail to the Society's address given below.

Donations to the VFS Archives

The Society has always encouraged its members and other interested persons to deposit items of folklore collectanea in its archival holdings in the Special Collections Division of Alderman Library or in the Kevin Barry Perdue Archive of Traditional Culture, B001, Brooks Hall, University of Virginia, to be preserved and maintained for the benefit of future generations of Virginians.
   We suggest that anyone who has any historical, field-recorded or personal collections of folklore or folklife materials in whatever format (that is, manuscripts, books, tapes, records, film, video, photographs, folk art or craft items), please contact the Society's archivist by mail or email to: Charles L. Perdue. Since the Society is a non-profit, educational organization, donations made to it or its archives are eligible for tax exempt consideration.
   For a contemporary understanding of the concepts "folklore" and "folklife" and of what constitutes such materials, you may want to search the working definitions included on the Virginia Folklife Program web page.

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The Virginia Folklore Society
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